The value of casual recording

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Thursday 24 May 2018 17:43

I've recently stumbled across quite a lot of good species whilst doing other things. Firstly, I noted this Field Mouse-ear while mapping Chalk Milkwort (below) at Southerham this week. It turned up on the site in 2016, a record came in via Dave Bangs when I did the review of the species list but I have never found it on the site, so I was pleased to find it there!

There is masses of Chalk Milkwort in this really rich area and more Adonis Blues than I have ever seen there before, all down to finally being able to fence out this compartment from the arable reversion and gain better control of the grazing. It's looking great!

When I was showing Steve the mouse-ear, he spotted something shiny in the short turf! We managed to get it, a Scarab Shieldbug! A new record for the site of this now Nationally Scarce species, despite a thorough survey with a suction sampler here a few year ago.

Then yesterday I was at Amberley Wildbrooks helping the RSPB with a CBC there. Right at the end I stumbled on a field with about 100 Narrow-leaved Water-dropwort or Sulphurwort (Near Threatened and Nationally Scarce) plants in! It's been a few years since this was recorded here. Being an early flowerer and growing in the field centres (not the ditches), it's not one we pick up on the ditch survey.

Best of all though was last week. Jane and I were finishing a bird survey when I noticed a plant on an area that we couldn't access some distance away. I thought it was Large Bittercress. A really uncommon plant and it would be a new record for the site. So I rested my elbow on Jane's shoulder and took this terrible photo through my binoculars. Never had to do this before!

Frances went and had a look and found another plant nearby and confirmed it and while she was there, found the first Subterranean Clover there in 40 years. These surprises at Waltham are a direct response to the better graze it has been having the last few years. Jane took this photo of the Large Bittercress. The moral of the story. Always have a GPS and a notebook with you, whatever you are doing. And recording to eight figures IS really useful despite what some people say. Eight figures can always be turned into six but you can't do that the other way around. Additionally, I'm very fond of mapping plants using the basic unit of a 10 x 10 m square (or to eight figures) on the British National Grid in GIS.

Potter Flower-bee (Anthophora retusa) thriving at Seaford Head in areas managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 12 May 2018 16:55

Last week I started a survey of the rare Potter Flower-bee Anthophora retusa at Seaford Head. Coincidentally, there is also a PhD study being carried out by Gigi Hennessy so we joined forces to get a more thorough idea of where the bee is on the site. As Gigi has some transects concentrated on the key areas, I was keen to have a look at areas away from these transects.

My approach was to GPS every individual found and map them. I also wanted to sex them and record what they were feeding on. That last was easy, all 12 we saw were feeding on Ground-ivy. The problem with recording retusa is the abundance of plumipes still present. The first we recorded last Thursday was a female at the top of the west ride. This is great news as this was just solid scrub only five years ago. This fantastic ride created by SWT and the volunteers has produced plentiful forage for this rare bee. We also saw another male there. Now the female is a little smaller (although this isn't enough to clinch ID in the field - some plumipes are smaller) so you have to catch them and look for the red spines present on the hind leg. This is a bit of a faff. You can see them clearly in the image below but that's after catching the bee and getting it into this cage or small glass tube. The females are faster than the males too.

I went on to catch a male. Much more gingery and lacking the long hairs on the legs of the male plumipes

Here is the habitat showing the wealth of Ground-ivy.

We caught a male plumipes and put it next to the retusa. That's when it hit us, retusa has green eyes just like Anthophora bimaculata while plumipes are black. Actually this is so much easier than trying to see the red spines in the female!

We then went a walk along the coastal grassland where the Anthophora petered out as the Ground-ivy stopped. We saw clouds of very worn male Andrena haemorrhoa flying around the edge of the cliffs. A single Ophonus ardosiacus ran across the cliff top grassland, a new carabid for the site. Dingy and Grizzled Skippers were everywhere. There were however, no Anthophora at all on the golf course side. All but Alex and I headed off and despite a cool westerly breeze, we decided to head to the one other suitable area that Gigi is not covering; the cattle grazed area to the east of Hope Bottom...

The first retusa we had was a female which made for the photo at the top of this post and this video.

We caught a further six males but also three Bombus humilis! I was quite pleased with this, especially as Alex spotted the first one and we didn't see any humilis up there during a thorough survey two years ago. We may have also seen a Bombus ruderaius but we bungled it and the wind took it.

Here you can see a distribution map of what we recorded on Thursday. I will add to this with one more visit in just over a week's time and hopefully we can put all the data together and make this a really useful exercise. Interesting how the two females we recorded were the ones furthest from the coast and the loess they nest in.

Even an Early Purple Orchid has popped up in the grazed area.

So a big thumbs up from me and a male Anthophora plumipes to the work being done there! There is not much we can do about nesting habitat but we can create lots of forage, so thanks to the ride creation, its aftercare and the cattle-grazing and scrub management, we are creating more forage for this incredibly rare bee.

What's your favourite genus?

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Saturday 5 May 2018 20:28

Too much natural history getting in the way of blogging at the moment! A crazy few weeks. Just a quick one of a new spider for me from a site in Surrey. The Nationally Rare Xysticus acerbus. The male is at the top and I also found a female (the bottom two photos). This is perhaps my favourite genus of spiders. In fact, there are now only two I haven't seen - robustus and luctator

Other favourites of mine include Andrena, Chrysolina, Cryptocephalus and Ampedus. I am sure there are many more. What makes for a good genus? A decent number of species with a mix of bright and varied charismatic species identifiable in the field and some only at the microscope. A mix of common species and rare ones so that they are not too elusive. That sort of thing for me. So what's your favourite genus? Meanwhile enjoy some more Xysticus acerbus.

If ET was a money spider

Posted by Graeme Lyons , Wednesday 2 May 2018 18:41

Excuse the poor quality photo but I had to share this one. Last Sunday was our third Ditchling Beacon Conservation Super Squad and as my back is anything other than super, I was on light duties. Which involved finding wildlife to show the team on a freezing cold day. I had a go with the suction sampler in the quarry at Ditchling and picked up a tiny (1.5 mm) spider. It wasn't until I got home and looked down the microscope that I saw this...

I am still terrified of ET as a 40 year old 'man'. I've gone all jittery looking through photos just to write this post. Anyway, money spiders with freaky heads are pretty cool but this one is really weird. What looks like nostrils are actually one of the four pairs of eyes. The palps (External Testicles) were pretty weird too. This is Panamomops sulcifrons (my 373rd arachnid). It's a bit of a chalk-grassland specialist but what's strange is that I didn't pick it up at all last year during a survey there, in fact there were only three species of spider with conservation status that went into the management plan. Even though I was using a suction sampler in that exact same spot. It just shows that ongoing casual recording is also a great way to add to our knowledge of sites. The only other record on a Trust reserve is from Malling in 2009.

This is the second Nationally Scarce species we have added to the site list whilst scrub bashing up at Ditchling. A great way to do practical conservation and learn about wildlife at the same time. Have a look here if you want to sign up. It's always the last Sunday of the month and involves some steep and challenging work but is really rewarding. We also found three other species new to the site. Yellow Archangel, Moschatel and Palmate Newt!

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